On a sunny summer day, a dozen or so motorcyclists of the American Legion Riders Post 178 (Murrells Inlet) delivered a check to the Veterans Welcome Home & Resource Center in Little River. The riders of Post 178 regularly support the center, started three years ago, and ALR leader Bob Duncan says “the vets center is one of our main projects.”
Other groups supported by the ALR include area Blue Star Mothers and families of the National Guard field artillery unit in Georgetown during deployment to Afghanistan through the Guard’s Family Readiness Program. Beyond the support for established groups, the riders also took the lead in providing a proper funeral to veterans who otherwise would not receive one.
In July, about 25 riders escorted the remains of a U.S. Army veteran from Conway to the Florence National Cemetery. Former Staff Sgt. John Rieser died alone in October 2009 and no one claimed his ashes. Horry County Coroner Robert Edge learned that Rieser probably had served in the military and wanted Rieser to have a proper burial. The coroner was able to see to that only after a new S.C. law passed to allow coroners and funeral directors with unclaimed remains to give information regarding the deceased to veterans groups.
The new law was proposed by ALR members John Bianchi of Post 178 and Larry Truax of Post 186 in Little River. Bianchi, among the riders to the Little River veterans center the other day, says “Bob Duncan introduced me to Larry and he told me what he wanted to do,” which was to have an S.C. act similar to one in New York, which provides for names to be checked for military service. Bianchi did some research and contacted area legislators Rep. Nelson Hardwick and Sen. Ray Cleary.
The measured passed without opposition and became law in May. It is certainly an appropriate law and it’s more than fitting that Bianchi was among the riders escorting the remains to Florence National Cemetery and that Truax helped coordinate the service with cemetery director Carolyn Howard.
Bianchi moved here in 2005 after working as a supervisor at the Jacob Javits Federal Building in lower Manhattan, New York City. He served in the Air Force, between U.S. wars in Korea and in Vietnam. Bianchi started riding a motorcycle only in 2007 and recently purchased a new Harley-Davidson machine.
The American Legion Riders is a relatively new program. Duncan, another New Yorker, has been involved in ALR since it started in South Carolina in 2007. He was the first S.C. director after the Murrells Inlet Post 178 ALR formed with groups in Rock Hill and Goose Creek. Post 178 started with about 20 riders and has grown to 171 members. About 15 S.C. Legion posts have ALR chapters.
Duncan is a wounded veteran of Vietnam and has been a veterans advocate since 1975, working through Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He and his wife have been here 12 years. In New York, Duncan knew another veterans advocate, Kris Tourtellote, who founded and runs the Little River center.